Monday, May 11, 2009

A lifetime of damsels in romantic distress

The world's leading romance publisher, Harlequin, sells about 130 millions books a year. The novels are marketed toward women, and it's probably safe to say that, at the very minimum, 129.9 million of the novels are purchased by people in the intended market. No surprise then that Lifetime, a channel that calls itself "television for women," jumped on the bandwagon and began producing mediocre films based on novels by romance novelist Nora Roberts, starring B-list celebrities acting out what they think is every woman's fantasy.

Roberts has been writing romance novels since 1981, with topics ranging from murder mysteries to what it's like to live in a haunted house. And, as should now be obvious, all of her novels, no matter the topic, include at least one romantic escapade. The Lifetime films are no different, as they are all based on completely different topics with one thing in common: sex — or "romance," as it seems to be called in the industry.

But while what is inside the pages and on the TV screen are very much the same, the movie posters and book covers couldn't be more different. While they both give the audience no insight into the story, the book covers are plain, with just the title of the novel and maybe a pretty picture that in no way indicates sexuality. The movie posters, however, are provocative and clearly made to draw only viewers interested in romance (preferably the "Desperate Housewives" who wish they had more romance in their own lives).

The first movie, Northern Lights, was, in simplest form, about a police chief solving a murder in a small town. He of course falls in love and has to "save" his new love from the murderer he believes to be on the loose. But who cares about all that, the movie poster shows everyone the only important thing about the entire film.

The second film, entitled Midnight Bayou, involves a man abandoning his life to move into a house that is apparently haunted. He immediately begins seeing and hearing unexplainable things, but is also distracted by a local woman whom he falls in love with. Clearly, the ghosts roaming his house are no big deal as the movie poster only focuses on the relationship. We know it's based on a romance novel, but c'mon Lifetime, couldn't the poster at least be a little scary?
Forced to strike a nearly identical pose to the actors in Midnight Bayou, the stars of High Noon didn't get a chance to escape being on a ridiculous movie poster. The main idea of sex is the same as the others, but the actual concept is about a female hostage negotiator discovering she is the target of a psychopathic killer. She of course falls in love, this time with a local bar owner. She finds herself unable to negotiate herself out of having a relationship with her new love interest, though she wants to for the sake of her child and career. She eventually gives up trying and all psychopathic killer business is put to rest and the couple ends up in a nearly naked predicament by the end of the movie.

Lastly, in the film Tribute, a woman finds herself reliving her family's dark secrets after moving into the home where her grandmother committed suicide. She finds love with her new neighbor who comforts and protects her from her real-life nightmares. It's nothing new as it's just another classic, cheesy, Lifetime + Nora Roberts film involving a man saving a damsel in distress. And of course, the movie poster is the same as well.

If movie posters are a form of advertising and advertising is supposed to sell us the movie by giving us a quick glance into what the film is actually about, then what exactly is the point of these posters? Well, Lifetime is clearly sexist in believing that the posters are effective and that women with no taste in movies will watch anything as long as a shirtless man is involved. By this kind of thinking, women only go to the movies to see the male star on the big screen, only rent movies to have men in their homes, and of course only watch Lifetime to see some steamy "romance" action.

Most tellingly, every one of the Lifetime posters tells the same story: man superior, his body always positioned above the woman's; woman slightly alarmed or afraid, shown in her facial expression; woman either being comforted or just kept by the man who clutches at her; woman always vulnerable, some aspect of her clothing always unbuttoned, undone, in danger of an imminent moment of immodesty — oops, make that sexiness.

"A four week event," Lifetime calls this charade parade. We're grateful we didn't have any time during that "event" to see anything beyond the posters, because we might have suffered a terminal overdose of swooning.

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